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Physicians, patients sing praises of digital hearing aids

By Staff | May 13, 2011

The old analog hearing aids have slowly gone out of existence over the past decade due to improved technology that digital hearing aids posses.
Dr. Robert Hooper said he likes the digital hearing aids because he can program each of them to fit his patients’ individual hearing loss due to the computerized chip that can be fine tuned.
Patients were given a volume controller with the old analog hearing aids that only consisted of one setting, which has changed with the digital hearing aids.
Board Certified Audiologist Maura Chippendale said when she purchased the old analog hearing aids, she would have to order a certain frequency response that could only be adjusted and fine tuned in minor areas. Once the hearing aids were converted into digital, she said it enabled the digital signal to manipulate the sound.
“It gives us more control over what the hearing aids are doing,” Chippendale said about the digital hearing aids.
Before when patients experienced a change in their hearing loss of about 30 decibels, the entire hearing aid had to be changed. Chippendale said now with digital hearing aids, all she has to do is reprogram them to match the change of hearing loss.
Hooper said he can program a digital hearing aid to provide benefits in various environment settings for his patients by controlling the frequency response.
“Today you can take a digital hearing aid and program it 100 different ways, which makes it flexible,” he said.
Chippendale said she continues to learn what she can do to manipulate the sound in a digital hearing aid by compressing or amplifying the sound or by putting it into a linear mode or compression mode.
“The hearing aid chooses what it is doing to the sound automatically,” she said. “A lot of the digital hearing aids are automatic and have artificial intelligence.”
Since digital hearing aids were first introduced in 2000, the size of the device has significantly decreased. Hooper said the size has shrunk to one half or one third of its original size due to the size of the digital chip that is now being used.
The device can range in price from $700 to as much as $3,500 depending on the digital chip size one can choose from.
“It depends on how many bells and whistles you have on the chip to determine the price,” Hooper said.
Chippendale said it is important for the consumer to remember that it is illegal to buy hearing aids on the Internet. She said a law was passed in the state of Florida to protect the consumer from purchasing digital hearing aids online.
Chippendale said the consumer will not receive a good product even if they can find a digital hearing aid online that they can program because not all hearing aids are alike and some companies can carry six or seven different digital devices.
“Digital hearing aids are only as good as the person programming it,” Chippendale said.
Martha Versichelli said after 20 years of not being able to hear well, digital hearing aids were introduced to her, which has changed her life.
She said with the new hearing aids she can speak to people one-on-one, along with having private conversations on the phone with friends and family. The digital hearing aid also provides a louder sound without backlash, along with distinct word clarity for Versichelli.
“An idea of personal conversations means so much,” Versichelli said smiling, adding that an individual can speak “loud and directly to me.”